Located in the middle of Ginza in a totally nondescript building and up some stairs, Yoshitake was, hands-down, my favorite sushi experience in Japan. Better than Jiro by a long shot, with friendlier chefs and staff, fresher and more interesting fish, a more beautiful and compelling space, and a better atmosphere. If you only go to one sushi place in Japan, forget Jiro and the others- go here.
PRICE PAID: $225 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10
Unlike most other restaurants on my trip, I was warmly and enthusiastically greeted by both the chef and his staff as soon as I walked in. And I don't just mean the robotic greeting that every restaurant automatically belts out whenever a new customer walks in- that's par for the course- I mean he actually greeted me by name, thanked me for coming, asked me about my allergies and preferences, where I was from, and wished me a great meal. Such a small touch. but you'd be shocked how few restaurants in this country bother with such a gesture even if they only serve a dozen people in a night.
The menu was divided into two halves- the appetizer half, which consisted of a series of small plates, and then of course the sushi half.
This delightful warm steamed egg custard was garnished with pufferfish roe and had soft pillowy textures throughout. Flavors of vanilla cake! What a great start. 9/10.
THIS IS IT. This is the one, best, most delightful piece of fish of my entire Japan trip. Seared ruby snapper, served warm. The searing brings out the sweetest, richest, most delicious flavors without getting oily or greasy. It seems hyperbolic to award an 11/10, but I really really want to. 10/10.
Anything would be kind of a disappointment after that last course, but this squid with roe from the coast closest to Kyoto is extremely good- fresh, firm, flavorful. Squid sauce a little sweet. 8/10.
Next, two firm chunks of monkfish liver- I would describe the taste as like a lean foie pâté. 8/10.
Next, some steamed abalone- the mollusk has a pleasing, if somewhat rubbery, texture. Great flavor and subtle floral/vegetable notes. 8/10.
This next part was pretty cool- the chef had created a liver sauce from the very same abalone served moments earlier. I was instructed to mix the sauce with the rice- the end results is an incredibly rich ragout that tastes a lot like mayo. I mean that in the best way possible. 9/10.
Next up, some grilled tilefish (a bottom-feeder commonly found in the North Atlantic). Firm, great texture, but a somewhat neutral flavor that serves as a nice walk-down from the heavy richness of the previous course. 9/10.
For the final appetizer course, some steamed clam served with a small spritz of shaved lemon peel, sake, and canola flower. Refreshing, and the citrus brings out the best in the clam's flavors. 9/10.
It was a real treat to sit at the chef's counter and get to watch the very fine knifework that went into the meal. In this step, the chef is cutting squid into slices as thin as paper- freehand.
This squid- or Ika- has a perfect glassy appearance and a firm but yielding texture, but the flavor is just not 100% quite there. 8/10.
Next, some sayori, or halfbeak. These are small fish known to be difficult to prepare with with a mackerel flavor, and thick but yielding flesh. 8/10.
Here come the big guns- the tuna courses. Chuotoro- medium-fatty tuna- is smooth, almost steak-like in texture and mouthfeel. Flavor isn't terribly rich but its deep and full of umami. You won't find a better piece of sushi anywhere in the world. 10/10.
Looking back on my notes from the meal itself, all I wrote was: "Mother of God." Can't disagree with that. Some of the best fatty tuna (otoro) ever created. 10/10.
Next, the bizarrely-named gizzard shad- has an almost a pepperoni flavor. The fish is definitely quite oily, and like most shiny fish is served with scales removed but skin still on. 8/10.
This herring roll crunches with veggies, and has a big, hearty flavor. 8/10.
Ark shell- also known as red clam- has some beautiful colors and a firm, salty flavor. 8/10.
Next, an enormous sea urchin (uni) hand roll, piled together from a box of sea urchin that is removed with great ceremony. The box itself is full or sea urchin lined up carefully like jewels. Strong earthy flavors, perfect temperature and slick texture. 9/10.
Japanese Imperial Prawn, or kuruma ebi, is a basically a completely delicious shrimp very recently cooked and served pleasantly warm. The flavor isn't very sweet- it's more savory- but has wonderful texture. Served with the tail and head off, unlike at Jiro's, which is a more Westerner-friendly presentation. 8/10.
Anago, or sea eel- is presented next. Cooked to perfection and with a beautiful baked flavor, the eel is bright and zingy-fresh. In what is becoming a string of victories for Yoshitake, this is easily the best sea eel I've had- 10/10.
As we get towards the end of the sushi menu, a tuna hand roll- literally held by hand and eaten like an ice cream cone. It takes me a few inelegant bites to consume the whole thing. 9/10.
And, lastly, a slightly-sweet egg cake, served in a delightfully simple cube form. 9/10.
And, the final word in what has been a very long and record-settingly-awesome meal- a cup of plain miso to unwind the palate. 8/10.